On Sept. 14, 2010, Bradley Aldrich was king for a day in his hockey-loving hometown.
Aldrich had been a video coach for the Chicago Blackhawks, who won the Stanley Cup that June. Now it was his turn to show off “the greatest trophy in sports” to the people of Houghton, Michigan, a town that makes a good argument for being the birthplace of professional hockey. Aldrich still lives in neighboring Hancock.
“It’s been great,” Aldrich told a WLUC-TV reporter before lifting the Cup above his head on an iconic local bridge. “We did a tour through town. We started at the Hancock High School and talked to the kids and let them see it for a while. ... I really wanted today to be special for me and the family and the community.”
By then, Aldrich’s brief NHL career was over.
Two months earlier, he’d quietly left the Blackhawks amid allegations that he sexually assaulted a Hawks player during the team’s championship run. The allegations were recently made public after the player sued the team this year, accusing officials of mishandling his complaint as well as an earlier allegation involving Aldrich and a second player.
More than three years after leaving the Blackhawks, Aldrich pleaded guilty in Michigan to a misdemeanor charge of criminal sexual conduct with a 16-year-old high school hockey player he coached. The victim in that 2013 incident also has sued the Hawks, contending he was harmed by the team’s negligence in handling the earlier allegations.
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The two lawsuits and the public scrutiny that ensued have jolted the Hawks organization and the National Hockey League itself, as observers inside and outside the sport have questioned the team’s response to the accusations in 2010 as well as its accountability now.
The news also has brought to light the story of a man whose behavior around young hockey players raised concerns before, during and after his time with the Blackhawks but who didn’t face public repercussions until after he left the NHL. A Tribune review of public records found police and employers documented allegations against Aldrich of a sexual nature involving a total of four teenagers and five men after his time with the Blackhawks. Only one of the incidents, the 2013 case with the 16-year-old boy, resulted in charges. Aldrich, 38, is now registered as a sex offender in Michigan.
Both lawsuits allege the Blackhawks failed to properly investigate Aldrich and take appropriate disciplinary action and, thus, allowed his wrongful behavior toward players to go undocumented and unchecked.
The Hawks issued a statement in May saying the former player’s allegations against the team “lack merit,” but the team later hired law firm Jenner & Block to conduct an independent review of his claims and the team’s response. The Blackhawks have promised to make the results public.
Aldrich is not a defendant in either lawsuit filed against the team and has not been charged in connection with the Hawks player’s allegations. Aldrich and his lawyer did not respond to Tribune requests for comment.
In statements relayed by his attorney, Susan E. Loggans, the former Blackhawk told the Tribune his performance on the ice was affected by his encounter with Aldrich and subsequent counseling sessions with the team’s mental skills coach, James F. Gary. His suit says Gary discouraged the player from pursuing his complaint and told the player he was to blame for what happened — allegations Gary’s lawyer disputed.
“Hockey is a huge mental game, which is the reason why all NHL teams have mental skills coaches, like Jim Gary,” said the former player, who sued under the name John Doe. “If you can’t focus, there is no way to be in your game and it is uncomfortable to go to the office every day. There is no way to perform at your best as well as dealing with anxiety and depression.
“It is impossible to be at your best.”
The incident described in his lawsuit allegedly took place just weeks before the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, while the team was already in the playoffs. Daniel Carcillo was on the Philadelphia Flyers during the championship series against the Hawks and remembers what was at stake for the Chicago team. The Hawks had not won the Cup in 49 years, and it was their first trip to a final since 1992.
“Think about the implications,” said Carcillo, who later played for the Hawks and is a lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the Canadian Hockey League over physical and sexual abuse within its ranks. “You have a city, it’s an Original Six team that is in the Stanley Cup final for the first time in how many years? ... You think they’re ever going to let that get out while they’re on the cusp? ... They’re going to protect that story to the death.”
The Blackhawks declined to comment for this story beyond providing a written statement.
“We know our community is understandably eager for the results of the independent investigation, and we share that eagerness,” the statement said. “That said, it is important that Jenner & Block has the time and latitude to follow the investigative paths that they deem necessary. Since the commencement of this process, the Blackhawks have provided unfettered access for Jenner & Block to conduct a thorough and independent investigation. Once the investigation is complete, the organization is committed to sharing results and making appropriate changes to address Jenner & Block’s findings in our dedication to upholding a positive culture on and off the ice.”
Before the Blackhawks
Three years before joining the Hawks, Aldrich was attending Northern Michigan University in Marquette when his roommate contacted the police. Aldrich, he told them, often let teenage boys from a youth hockey team Aldrich coached drink alcohol inside their apartment.
Police didn’t follow up on the roommate’s April 2005 complaint. But the police report on the dispute was an early sign of the repeated complaints about Aldrich’s behavior that would follow his hockey career in coming years.
Raised in a hockey family, Aldrich spent much of his youth inside an NHL locker room. His parents grew up on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but the family moved to California in the mid-1990s after his father landed a job as equipment manager for the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, where he is still employed. When Aldrich was 15, he began helping out with the Sharks media staff on game nights, and in 2000 he coached a championship Pee Wee team, according to The Mercury News in California.
When Aldrich moved back to the U.P. to attend college, he continued volunteering with competitive youth hockey teams, including as an assistant coach with the now-disbanded Midget AAA Marquette Electricians, whose players were high school age.
It was around that time that Aldrich’s roommate reached out to police to report “problems” between the two, according to a one-page police report that offered few details. Officers advised the roommate to follow up with his landlord.
Eight years later, police in Houghton, Michigan, tracked down the former college roommate as they investigated a 2013 complaint about Aldrich’s contact with the 16-year-old Houghton High School hockey player.
The former roommate “stated that he got upset with Brad Aldrich for having the kids over,” the 2013 police report said. “(He) stated that he contacted the Marquette Police (Department) as he did not want to get in trouble for it.”
Greg Mingay, who was on the Electricians’ board of directors at the time, said team officials did not know about the underage drinking allegations until after Aldrich left. The head coach had asked Aldrich to leave the team for other reasons, he said.
“He was attempting to play a role with the players where the coach would say one thing and Brad, behind people’s backs, would say something else,” Mingay told the Tribune. “The head coach said, ‘Brad, you’re not welcome here anymore.’”
During college, Aldrich also volunteered as an assistant coach with a couple of bantam-level hockey teams whose teen players were younger than the Electricians’ age division.
One former Marquette youth hockey board member told the Tribune that Aldrich’s interaction with the players made him uncomfortable, describing an incident when he saw Aldrich wrestling with a couple of the players at a summer gathering at a lake house.
“It was so weird and awkward,” said the man, who did not want his name published. “I told him to knock it off several times.”
He and Mingay said some parents eventually began questioning how close Aldrich was to a few players, including buying them expensive gifts such as a golf club; the lawsuit filed by the former Blackhawk also references gifts to players on the Electricians. Aldrich left Marquette soon thereafter, having graduated from Northern Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and social studies in December 2005.
By then, he had about six years’ experience coaching hockey. According to Aldrich’s resume, he worked after college as a video coach intern for the Sharks for about five months. He also was involved with USA Hockey, coaching players from around the country.
That next September, the University of Notre Dame hired him to work in the video unit of its hockey operations. His tenure with Notre Dame, the first of two stints, was brief, as he joined the NHL’s Blackhawks less than two years later in July 2008.
‘Lewd and lascivious conduct’
When a lower-level coaching position is filled on a hockey team, it doesn’t typically come with a lot of fanfare or even a mention in the news. Such was the case when the Hawks hired Aldrich.
However, video coaches play important roles, from isolating problems with a player’s skating technique to breaking down how the team performs on the power play. They often spend long hours analyzing video and making clips that coaches use for strategy meetings or to work with individual players.
In his lawsuit against the team, the former Blackhawks player alleges Aldrich used his video work and coaching advice to persuade the player to visit his apartment.
Former Blackhawks skills coach Paul Vincent, one of only a few figures from the 2010 Hawks to speak publicly about the allegations, told the Tribune such an offer would have been enticing for a young hockey player. “The clout that the video guy wields is pretty impressive because he has access to every game clip,” Vincent said.
The lawsuit doesn’t specify an exact date for the alleged apartment visit, placing it “in or around May 2010.” In the first half of that month, the Hawks defeated the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference semifinals. Their next opponent would be the Sharks, beginning May 16 in San Jose.
According to the player’s amended complaint, which added details not included in the original filing, when the player went to Aldrich’s apartment the coach “turned on pornography and began to masturbate in front” of him.
“(He) attempted to leave Aldrich’s apartment, but Aldrich blocked the only exit from the apartment, grabbed a souvenir Cubs bat from his wall, and physically threatened” the player, the suit alleges.
“Brandishing the bat,” Aldrich “verbally threatened Plaintiff by stating that Aldrich would ruin Plaintiff financially and destroy Plaintiff’s career if Plaintiff did not engage in nonconsensual sexual activity,” it states.
The complaint also alleges Aldrich exposed himself and began engaging in nonconsensual sexual acts, such as “forcibly touching Plaintiff, and other lewd and lascivious conduct, until Aldrich ejaculated on Plaintiff while Plaintiff was paralyzed with fear.”
Vincent told the Tribune he learned of the player’s alleged encounter with Aldrich shortly afterward — plus allegations involving a second player — from two Hawks, Nick Boynton and Brent Sopel. According to the complaint, the second player had accused Aldrich of sexual misconduct in an earlier incident and the team did not act. The second player is not suing and has not publicly confirmed the allegation.
Boynton declined Tribune requests for comment but told the Canadian sports network TSN that he did approach Vincent back then about the allegations. Sopel told the Tribune the allegations were common knowledge on the team. “Everybody knew,” Sopel said. “It wasn’t a secret.”
Vincent, who’s 74 now and operates a Boston-area hockey camp, said that after he heard the allegations he “went right to the two kids and just asked them if they were OK, (and) what happened. I said, ‘You gotta trust me.’
“And that’s the part that bothers me,” he added, saying he regrets he didn’t do more on his own to help, instead of leaving it up to the team.
Vincent has been a vocal critic of the Blackhawks since the allegations surfaced publicly. In his comments to the Tribune, the former player described Vincent as a “fatherly figure” and the only member of management or the coaching staff who tried to help him.
Vincent said that, to the best of his recollection, he talked to the two alleged victims after the Hawks returned to Chicago from a road game in Vancouver. After the Hawks landed in San Jose, Vincent said, he told the team’s counselor what he learned. “I ... said to Jim Gary, ‘This is allegedly what happened. You need to talk to them and handle this.’”
Vincent initially told the Tribune he first discussed the allegation with Brian Higgins, who is now the team’s security director, but later said he “could be mistaken” after Higgins’ attorney, Eric R. Lifvendahl, disputed Vincent’s account. Lifvendhal said Higgins was working for the United Center’s security team at the time and didn’t join the Hawks until the fall. A Hawks spokesperson confirmed that timing.
The former Blackhawk’s amended complaint says Vincent informed multiple Blackhawks executives of the allegations, including then-team president John McDonough; then-senior director of operations Al MacIsaac, who is now senior vice president of hockey operations; and general manager Stan Bowman, among others.
Soon after talking to Gary, Vincent said, he was “brought into a room” in San Jose for a meeting with McDonough, MacIsaac, Bowman, Gary and another Hawks official he cannot recall. He said he was asked, “‘How do you know this happened?’ and I said, ‘The players told me.’”
According to the amended complaint, the meeting was “on or about” May 17.
Vincent said he brought up the idea of contacting the police and no one in the meeting said whether they were in favor or opposed.
At some point during the meeting, Vincent said, a team executive told him: “We’ve got it, you no longer have to worry about this. This is not your responsibility.”
Bowman recently told reporters he looks forward to full disclosure but couldn’t comment on the complaints against Aldrich or the alleged meeting because of the pending lawsuits and the internal review, in which he said he’d participate.
The team’s response
After the meeting, Vincent resumed his plans for the night — dinner with two coaches — but felt uneasy about the conversation, he said.
“Just one of those gut feelings, like ‘Ah, (expletive), this ain’t going to go any place,’” Vincent said.
Sopel said in a Tribune interview that Vincent told him and Boynton about the meeting and how top execs had assured him the matter would be handled. “For us as players, we expected them to handle it as they said they would,” Sopel said. “Obviously, that wasn’t the case.”
Despite the allegations, Aldrich continued working with players through the rest of the playoffs, Vincent said.
“By then I just assumed that (team executives) were handling it and either it was found baseless or found fact, I didn’t know,” Vincent said. “I was being a good soldier, if you know what I mean. And was that the right thing to do? Probably not.”
The player’s lawsuit alleges that after the incident the player underwent counseling with Gary, who “convinced plaintiff that the sexual assault was his fault, that he was culpable for what happened, made mistakes during his encounter with the perpetrator and permitted the sexual assault to occur.”
Lifvendahl, who represents Gary as well as Higgins, told the Tribune, “Jim adamantly denies ever having any kind of conversation like that, ever blaming anyone for their own abuse. If this individual was abused, Jim never in any way shape or form told that individual that it was his own fault.”
Lifvendahl said privacy rules prevent Gary from fully addressing the player’s account but “he has been extremely upset that there’s an allegation that he told the victim it was his fault. That’s something that’s really bothering him personally. It’s just false.”
In a statement provided by his lawyer, the player told the Tribune the team did not ask him about whether he wanted to report the allegation to police.
“It was never discussed with me to go to the police,” he said in the email. ”... It was never brought to me as an option.”
Vincent, a former police officer in Beverly, Massachusetts, said he regrets not taking up the matter with law enforcement. Asked what prevented him and the Hawks players from going to police themselves, Vincent paused.
“The fear of losing your job,” he said.
The Hawks went on to win the Stanley Cup in six games.
Vincent said it’s customary for coaches and scouts to be offered contract extensions after helping win a championship. But according to Aldrich’s own resume, he left the Blackhawks that July.
The alleged victim said in an email to the Tribune that Gary was the only Hawks official to discuss Aldrich’s departure with him.
“He assured me that I would never see Brad Aldrich again and the Hawks had given him the option to quit or be investigated, at which point I was notified that Brad Aldrich chose to quit, so no further investigation” would be done, the player wrote.
His lawsuit states that he suppressed memory of the incident until July 2019, when he learned Aldrich had pleaded guilty to having sexual contact with a high school student in 2013. He filed suit in May.
Asked whether the timing of his complaint to the team mattered, the player told the Tribune: “I think being in the Stanley Cup playoffs had a large part in it, although I don’t think it would have changed anything.
“No NHL team wants to risk its reputation with anything like this coming out,” he wrote.
The head coach at the time, Joel Quenneville, is now with the Florida Panthers. In July, Quenneville said in a statement that he learned of the allegations only this summer and pledged to participate in the Hawks’ investigation.
Katherine Starr, a former Olympic swimmer and abuse survivor who founded Safe4Athletes, a nonprofit dedicated to athlete abuse prevention, said that if an athlete makes an allegation, that person’s team should allow a neutral party to handle the issue. Athletes are often reluctant to come forward, she said, because of the potential damage to their careers.
If the allegations in the lawsuits are proved, said Sean Black, assistant director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Violence, the Hawks “failed to handle the charges seriously. They failed to move forward in a victim-centered way.”
Other abrupt departures
For the first 14 months after he left the Blackhawks, it’s unclear if Aldrich found full-time work.
According to his resume, he got involved with USA Hockey Women’s National Hockey program as a video coach. Aldrich also spent a few months in 2010 volunteering at Houghton High School as an assistant hockey coach, earning a $300 stipend, according to the school district. At the time, his uncle was an assistant coach for the team.
Corey Markham, the head coach, said he jumped at the chance to work with Aldrich.
“I thought that’d be great for us,” Markham told the Tribune. “It’s a well-known family in town. He’s a Stanley Cup-winning coach and his uncle works here.”
In September 2011, Aldrich went back to Notre Dame, this time working at Compton Family Ice Arena on the university’s programming and instructional staff. But Aldrich stayed less than nine months.
A Notre Dame spokesperson told the Tribune the university has “no record of complaints against Aldrich while he was at Notre Dame, or thereafter, based on his employment here.” A Tribune review of police, sheriff and court records in the South Bend, Indiana, area did not reveal any complaints.
In July 2012, Aldrich, then 29 years old, landed a job at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
Aldrich signed off on a policy prohibiting harassment and discrimination when tapped as director of Miami’s hockey operations, with a $30,000 annual salary, according to his university personnel file. He also offered private hockey lessons at the university’s Goggin Ice Center, records show.
But Aldrich’s tenure was short lived there, as well.
“In November 2012, Miami University was made aware of allegations of an off-campus sexual assault involving a non-student adult and Brad Aldrich,” spokesperson Jessica Rivinius wrote in an email to the Tribune. She said the Miami University Police Department offered to assist the person in filing a report with the Oxford Police Department but the person declined.
The allegation, described as “unwanted touching” in a later report compiled by Houghton police, coincides with Aldrich’s resignation five months after he was hired.
In September 2018, a second man reported to university police that he had been the victim of what police described as a “sex offense” after falling asleep on Aldrich’s couch after a night of drinking in late 2012. The man was about 21 at the time of the alleged incident and attended Miami of Ohio.
The former student said he was “horrifically embarrassed” and “would prefer to forget this ever happened.” He did not want to pursue criminal charges but wanted the incident on record “in case he ever does something like this again, particularly to children,” a police report said.
Rivinius told the Tribune the report was forwarded to the Oxford Police Department. Oxford police told the Tribune they did not investigate further “due to the lack of a responsive victim.”
Earlier this summer, after news broke about the Blackhawks litigation, Miami University hired a law firm to investigate Aldrich’s time there. The university will make the findings public, Rivinius said.
Aldrich returned to Houghton High School as an unpaid volunteer in the 2012-13 hockey season, a time when his uncle was no longer coaching at the school.
This time, Aldrich’s involvement with the team sparked a police investigation.
‘A blank stare’
In late September 2013, the mother of a teenage hockey player confronted her son about a stash of Benadryl she found in his stuff.
She said he was having “more and more difficulties” and noticed he “had a blank stare about him,” according to a police report. When the mother asked him why he was self-medicating, the boy stated he had been assaulted by Aldrich during a party in March, when he was 16, the report said.
Authorities also interviewed the boy. The teen described Aldrich as “extremely drunk” at the party, which another Houghton Gremlins teammate hosted in his parents’ home. The teen said he fell asleep after drinking four or five beers and a mixed drink and later “he felt somebody crawling into bed with him,” according to the report.
The police report said the teen accused Aldrich of fondling and performing oral sex on him even though he at one point had pushed Aldrich’s hand away and also told him “he was not gay.”
According to police, the teen said he continued to rebuff Aldrich’s advances until Aldrich said, “Fine then,” and left the room. The report said Aldrich returned to the bedroom around daybreak and fondled him again. The teen told police that after he again resisted, the coach said: “Nobody can find out about this.”
Police said Aldrich admitted he engaged in “sexual contact” with the teen.
“Brad Aldrich stated that once he began performing oral sex” on the teen “he knew that he had gone too far,” according to the police report. “Brad Aldrich stated during the interview, more than one time, that he knew that he was wrong for what he did as he was (the teen’s) high school coach.”
A person in Michigan may legally consent to sexual activity at age 16, but state law raises the age of consent to 18 in situations involving a teacher or someone else in a position of authority, such as a coach.
Aldrich, then 30, was arrested in October 2013. Prosecutors charged him with two counts — a felony and a misdemeanor — alleging criminal sexual conduct with a student, records show.
Two months later, Aldrich pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor, fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct with a student between 16 and 18. He was sentenced in February 2014 to nine months in the Houghton County Jail, receiving credit for 59 days served, according to court documents.
As part of the plea, Aldrich was placed on a five-year period of probation and ordered to register as a sex offender in Michigan. According to the Daily Mining Gazette, Aldrich did not speak at the sentencing hearing but his attorney, Tom Casselman, said Aldrich felt “sincere, heartfelt remorse” and has received counseling for alcoholism.
While Aldrich was serving his jail sentence, an adult cellmate complained in March 2014 to Houghton County sheriff officials that Aldrich twice touched him sexually.
According to a sheriff’s report, Aldrich said “they both grab each other but it is in a joking manner” and his cellmate is just “upset at him because he wants to move onto his side of the cell.” The cellmate declined to pursue his complaint further, the report said, and Aldrich was not charged with wrongdoing.
The former high school hockey player sued the Blackhawks in late May, alleging that the team’s actions in 2010 allowed the player to be harmed about three years later when Aldrich was his volunteer coach.
Markham, still head coach of Houghton’s hockey team, told the Tribune school officials did not know of the earlier allegations against Aldrich with the Blackhawks and Miami University. He said he remains troubled by the abuse his high school player suffered at Aldrich’s hands.
“You would never think something like this could happen,” Markham said. “Even if we did a background check, there was nothing there.”
Police investigate further
The police investigation into the high school player’s complaint revealed other allegations of a sexual nature against Aldrich, though no other charges resulted.
The player gave police the names of two other local teens with whom he said Aldrich had sexual contact. Authorities tracked down both of them, according to the Houghton police report. Neither was affiliated with the hockey team; instead, they told police, they met Aldrich online.
One boy told police he had “sexual relations” with Aldrich in August 2013 a day before the teen turned 17, after the two began chatting on Facebook, the report said. The teen said he was “uncomfortable with the situation.” Police advised him to continue with mental health services.
A 15-year-old boy who was in a juvenile detention home in Osceola County, Michigan, told police he had sexual contact with Aldrich twice, according to reports from two police agencies. The boy was 14 at the time of both alleged incidents and said Aldrich contacted him on the Grindr dating app.
The two did not meet up that night but had sexual contact later on the Hancock waterfront, an Osceola County sheriff’s report said. One to two weeks later, the boy said, he went over to Aldrich’s home “very drunk” after the man texted him.
“They went to Brad’s bedroom and (he) does not remember anything but waking up naked,” the sheriff’s report said.
Houghton police Chief John Donnelly told the Tribune authorities felt they had enough evidence to pursue a case involving the youngest boy interviewed while in juvenile detention, but the teen declined to cooperate.
Another Gremlins player interviewed by Houghton police said he witnessed Aldrich put his hand in the shorts of a teammate’s teenage sister in September 2013, according to the police report. The girl’s mother later told police her daughter said Aldrich “had touched her inappropriately,” the report states. The girl was 17 at the time of the alleged incident.
The Houghton police report also includes interviews with two of Aldrich’s male acquaintances who said he made sexual advances, including unwanted touching, in separate incidents in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Both men said alcohol was involved and Aldrich stopped when they rebuffed him, according to police.
Aldrich still lives in Hancock. He was named CEO in 2017 of a Calumet, Michigan-based glass-etching company, according to his resume.
‘Rollercoaster of emotion’
The former Blackhawks player at the heart of the 2010 allegations told the Tribune he has been buoyed by the support he has received since filing the lawsuit.
“It has been a long road to get to this point,” he said in emailed comments. “A lot of ups and downs, riding the rollercoaster of emotion.”
Sopel, his former teammate, said he cooperated with the investigation after the Hawks agreed to make the results public.
“The Blackhawks never dealt with it, never took care of it,” Sopel said. “They thought they were bigger than this. Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t easy. But this is about supporting those guys, those individuals, that this happened to. Their lives have changed forever.”
For Vincent, who is also cooperating, there’s a part of the Hawks’ 2010 championship that will remain tarnished until the team’s history with Aldrich is finally resolved.
“I’m not looking to be a hero, I’m not looking for anything,” Vincent told the Tribune. “I’m just looking (for it to be) settled” for the sake of the players he used to help coach. “There’s no closure for these guys.”
Advocates working against sexual violence called on the NHL and its teams examine their systems for reporting and investigating sexual abuse.
“It’s hard to know how frequent (this is) in pro sports because it’s infrequently reported,” said Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. “I would expect that it happens at least as often in any other workplace, and it’s a pretty regular occurrence within any big company. The fact that the players are male, that they’re strong and pro athletes, isn’t really a factor. This kind of thing happens to everybody.”
Vincent said the situation reminds him of the victims of abuse he encountered on the job as a police officer.
“I’ve witnessed how it (expletive) people up for the rest of their lives,” he said. “Whether you’re 19 or you’re 9 or you’re 20, abuse is abuse.”